A recent investigtion by the U.S. Justice Department focusing on law enforcement in Baltimore substantiates stories from the Black community regarding police misconduct there. While the DOJ report forces some Baltimoreans to acknowledge there is a problem, others consider the findings to be the “status quo.”
According to the report, police disproportionately stopped Blacks in underserved communities but rarely uncover any contraband. The findings are troubling. As a father of a young Black male living in Baltimore, I have to figure out how to help my son navigate various pitfalls. I spend mornings and nights agonizing over my son’s future. Not because he is a threat, but because people can’t see his humanity. Like many Black parents raising children in Baltimore I wonder, “how can I protect my son?”
It’s a complicated question because Black parents want to teach their children that they can be great. Unfortunately, they encounter barriers including the school-to-prison pipeline that dramatically impacts their academic and socio-emotional growth. In addition, people don’t see them as children or recognize their innocence; they are viewed through a clouded lens that shapes negative stereotypes. Countering misconceptions is difficult because people are constantly bombarded with images that reinforce beliefs about the Black community. I want to keep my son safe, watch him excel, attend college, graduate or professional school and raise his family.
Every day I pray that he doesn’t become a victim of a system that is incapable of seeing is brilliance. More importantly, what is society prepared to do to ensure he has the opportunity to simply live his life and maximize his potential?
My wife and I are raising our son to have strong morals and values but it was difficult to explain Freddie Gray’s death and why no one was held responsible. How can I look him in the eye and assure him that he is safe? What will we do when he is old enough to drive? Why are we forced to agonize over discussions that most parents can’t relate to?
These are all questions that Black parents have to consider on a daily basis. Frankly, it’s tiring and has an impact on your mental health. Imagine what it is like to do everything the right way and still face scorn because of your race. It forces some members of the Black community to mistrust systems (criminal justice, health, education etc.) and rarely seek help.
Although I was saddened by the findings in the DOJ report I’m not surprised. I’ve lived in cities including Camden, N.J., Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and now Baltimore. Years of systemic issues won’t be washed away because of one report. Baltimore similar to other locales has to dismantle barriers that prevent Black children from flourishing. However, it will require acknowledging that the problems are real and they have to be pulled out like a weed. Choosing to ignore a variety of issues will maintain a caste system that prevents Black upward mobility.
Members of the Black community face serious short and long-term obstacles. Recently, a study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development and Institute Policy Studies suggested if things stay the same it will take 228 years for Blacks to create the same wealth we see among Whites. The appalling figure highlights the importance of wealth, including homeownership.
Baltimore has a history of housing discrimination that is linked to the current economic problems in the Black community. For years, Blacks were prevented from building wealth because of housing covenants, redlining and other discriminatory practices. Some of these practices continue today and negatively impact members of the Black community regardless of their socio-economic status.
As a Baltimorean and Black father I have to recognize that my son faces a perilous journey. Each step he takes could place him in danger. Unlike other Americans if he makes a mistake he will be judged harshly. The scales of justice are not balanced in his favor but my wife and I will not allow anyone to dim his bright future.
We are committed to giving him every opportunity to succeed.
Most Black parents understand that equipping your child with all the skills they need isn’t always enough in today’s society. To ensure our son will be successful we have to be prepared to change the system. This includes continuing to hold leaders accountable and demanding economic, educational and political change. The report is just the first step to make sure our son and other Black children feel safe and secure.